Archive for April, 2009


I’ve been a member of the Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) for a number of years. It’s a resource I recommend to clients who may be having trouble dealing with some of the feelings they have as they face the upcoming loss or after losing their pet.


I’ve been trying to explain some of what we’re going through in our house to people who aren’t “dog people”.


I think the following quotes from an article Dr. Wallace Sife wrote for the APLB spring newsletter do a pretty good job of starting the explanation:


“It has been said that the worst bereavement anyone can go through is the loss of a child. Here, there are other complex factors involved that normally don’t come into play. But in many ways the loss of a beloved pet can be similar to the bereavement for a child. Our companion animals have a complete reliance on us –for everything. We train, nurture and raise them as we would a special person, and we love them dearly, completely protecting and nurturing them. And the pure love they give us back is like that of an adoring needy child who never grows up. Their personalities become an important part of us, and when they die the grief is unique and terrible. A very private bond and sense of special dependency and love is suddenly shattered. This is like no other kind of loss.”


“Our bonds with our beloved pets are in many ways stronger, purer, and far more intimate than with most others of our own species. We feel loved and secure in sharing our secret souls with them. How often can this be safely done – even with someone who is very close? So when a dear pet’s life ends, it really is very understandable and normal for us to grieve and suffer a profound and different kind of bereavement.”


“We all have the potential of being made into better people by our cherished passed-on dear ones. How we each end up celebrating their past lives and integrating them into our own ongoing existence makes all the difference.”

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The Day

We have A Day.

Broad Institute has been conducting research on several different canine diseases for years. All our Leos have donated blood and DNA to a variety of research studies. The oesteosarcoma research at Broad is among them. If you have a purebred dog and would like to contribute to on-going canine disease research, contact the Broad Institute.


While we were attending the Leonberger National Specialty, we attended the cancer seminar presented by one of the researchers on this study. I spoke with her after her presentation. I found out they’re now doing more advanced research.

This research requires more than a blood sample. We will be collecting pieces of Ky’s bone tumor itself for genetic research. This will be done post-mortem, of course.

This means, though, we need to plan things in advance. We need to have time set aside for the vet to do the actual harvest. The RNA they’ll be testing is highly perishable so we need to make sure we stick to a strict timeline. The samples have to be refrigerated for 18 hours then shipped overnight. This means there are only 4 days of the week we can chose for The Day.

Our vet has been very accommodating and will come in on a Sunday to do this. Something not every vet would do.

Members of my family have told me this is a bad idea -to have a date chosen in advance.  One of my spiritual mentors who was married to an Apache healer tells me this takes lots of courage. She said I should expect to have my heart stretched a great deal in this endeavor.

This research is too important to NOT participate so I have no choice.

Besides Ky has stretched my heart every day of his life. It only makes sense he would continue to do so as he crosses to the Other Side.

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When Ky retired from his therapy visits at the end of March, I figured we’d be able to get a surprise visit or two in if we could get our schedule to work. We did a surprise visit before the kids went on spring break.  The Friday before spring break, the instructor, Neil, told the kids Ky is terminally ill. He said it was the hardest thing he’s had to do in a long time.



The kids had a week of spring break to enjoy life and forget about death.

Last week I expected to make Ky’s last ever school visit. I felt it important to make one visit now that the kids know he’s dying. It would give them a chance to say whatever they need –or not. It’s a very personal experience different for everyone, so if they didn’t miss a beat it’d be fine with me, too.  Jake was absent on the day we visited. I thought that would be that and Ky’s visits were finished.

On Tues, Tringa went in like she’s been doing this forever. Jake asked me where Ky was with more than just a little anxiety in his voice. He was visibly relieved when I told him was at home probably napping. He told me he had heard about Ky. He asked how long he had to live, where the cancer was and other details. I answered them the best I could. Leaving school that day was hard.

I went home and checked my schedule. I asked Neil if I’d be able to bring Ky in on Friday for a short visit so everyone, mostly Jake,  would have a chance to say goodbye. He arranged it so we could come in the morning instead of our usual afternoon visit. Ky has more energy in the mornings so I was grateful for that.

Jake was very excited to see Ky. We did as much talking about Ky’s condition, heaven, what would happen next, feelings, etc as we did reading. Jake even opened up about some personal family stuff he hadn’t talked about before.  It was a very healing day. Definitely thank goodness it was Ky Day.

A note the kids wrote to Ky on his last day.

A note the kids wrote to Ky on his last day.

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A Throne

It’s about an hour before one of my basic obedience leash and collar classes is to begin. I just finished setting up their surprise mid- term course. I thought it’d be a good idea to use the bathroom while I had a little time.

One of my canine assistants will be helping with class tonight. Mara, my GSD, accompanied me into the bathroom.

It’s a big bathroom.

So I’m sitting on the toilet and thought I’d WORK MY DOG! There I am giving her a bunch of signals and commands from my throne. And like the wonderful subject she is, she followed each and every one, happily.

I think that classifies me as a dog trainer -someone who uses every interaction with their dog as a training event. You may think it classifies me as something else.

To Mara, it classifies me as cool. We can have fun ANYWHERE!

Mara says "Wipe Away Crappy Attitude!"

Mara says "Wipe Away Crappy Attitude!"

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Happy Easter

Whatever your spiritual beliefs, enjoy a great Easter Sunday!

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It’s Friday, April 3. We got home from Ky’s last road trip about an hour ago. He made a quick appearance at the Leonberger Club of America’s National Specialty. People who have met Ky in person over the years got a chance to say goodbye. People who’ve “met” him on the Internet got to get a big sloppy kiss.

This trip was the last in our list of goals we’d hoped to meet since his bone cancer diagnosis in November. Our original plan was for the entire family, all 5 dogs, Mark and I to go for the entire show. Things changed. Ky’s at the stage where we’re trying to balance doing fun things and the risk of doing fun things.  It’s challenging at times. In the last few weeks I decided I was no longer comfortable squeezing all of us in the truck.  The risk of causing a pathological fracture in Ky’s leg was too great in such cozy quarters.

Our new plan: Mara, Corvus and Ledum were left at home. Mark, I, Tringa and Ky headed out at 5:30a.m.on Thursday April 2nd.

We planned to arrive at Nationals in plenty of time for him to participate in the Veteran’s Parade. We pulled into the show grounds an hour BEFORE the Veteran’s Parade was scheduled. As I drove across the parking lot to find a spot, we noticed a number of older Leos milling about. There was a pit in my stomach. We ran in to find out the Veteran’s Parade had just finished…an hour before it was scheduled to begin!

That was a HUGE disappointment, but we used extra time to visit with people.

We attended the cancer seminar in the afternoon. That’s why we chose to attend Thursday in particular. Leo people have participated in a number of research studies. All of our pack has contributed DNA and tissue samples where they could. We got an update on what’s happening and learned they’ve changed some protocol so Ky will donate more tissue.

I hauled a fluffy bed around with us so wherever we stopped to talk to people, Ky had a nice, soft place to repose. It got kind of heavy and bulky after wandering in circles looking for particular people, but Ky’s comfort was worth it.

As the night progressed and both of us tired, I was glad Ky had his pillow. At the same time I was distressed Ky had his pillow. Distressed over the reason he had the pillow, not the fact he actually had the pillow.

We got to visit with the owner of Tringa’s sire. That was great. He brought an awesome present for her we’ll treasure always. Oh, by the way, Tringa was super for her First Road Trip. She behaved well in the hotel room and in the hallways. Her first elevator ride elicited a tiny look of concern on her face that disappeared before we reached the second floor. After that it was just another thing we did.

Friday morning we got up to spend a little more time with people we’d missed on Thursday evening before heading back home.

We had planned to stay a short time, but had no exact timeline.  

It started to creep in very slowly-the overwhelming black cloud of sorrow. It started with a person bringing up his pillow which reminded me of why he had his pillow and why we were on the trip. It grew when the next person commented on his pillow and grew more when the next ten people commented.

That’s when it was time to leave. I had to get out of there before I started sobbing uncontrollably. We packed up and I stopped to say a teary farewell to a few people while Mark watched the dogs.

Then we were in the truck and headed home from The Last Road Trip.

We completed The Last Goal.

Now what?

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Tonight’s Basic Class brought home the fact Ky is no longer teaching with me. Mara is a good assistant, but she’s not Ky.
She can become a great assistant, but she cannot become Ky.
And I should not expect her to.
I should rejoice in the fact I have Mara to step in and Tringa in the wings and Ledum on deck. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m blessed. Even though I try really hard to remember that always some days it gets hard to do that.
It’s time for me to go curl up with my retired assistant and remind myself.

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